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Teacher licensing plan moves through Minn. House

  • Article by: CHRIS WILLIAMS
  • Associated Press
  • January 27, 2011 - 6:28 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Less than a week after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan scolded Minnesota for not having more ways for talented people to become teachers, a state House committee approved a bill aiming to do just that.

On a split vote, the House Education Finance Committee on Thursday forwarded a bill sponsored by Rep. Patrick Garofalo, R-Farmington. Garofalo said Duncan, who visited Minnesota on Jan. 21, was "shocked, shocked, that alternative pathways to teachers licenses did not exist in Minnesota."

Garofalo's bill would make it possible for the first time for a local applicant to get a license through an organization other than a Minnesota college or university. Those organizations could be nonprofits or school districts, provided their licensing programs were approved by the state Board of Teaching.

Supporters of the change argue that lowering barriers for qualified people who want to teach in challenging schools, but don't meet the traditional state licensing requirements, would help close the education achievement gap between white students and racial minorities.

"We need to open this up and get great talent, wherever that talent may come from," Duncan told a group of business leaders in Minneapolis on Jan. 14.

The bill would also reduce the amount of required student teaching time from about 10 weeks to a minimum of 200 hours, or about five weeks. All those proposals would ease a future expansion in the state by Teach for America, the group that trains recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools.

The bill also eliminates the current requirement that out-of-state teachers show they went through a teaching program that was essentially equivalent to Minnesota requirements. If it wasn't, the teacher might have to take additional college courses.

Shannon Blankenship, executive director of the Hiawatha Academies, a charter school in Minneapolis, testified the rule made it hard to recruit the best teachers. He said he had interviewed Minnesota natives who were successful teachers in other states, but got discouraged when the saw the red tape involved in coming home.

"These talented people are, more often than not, not returning to Minnesota," he said.

Garofalo's bill would retain the requirement Minnesota teachers must have a bachelor's degree and pass exams for reading, writing, basic mathematics, teaching skills and their specific area of expertise.

Representatives of Teach for America and the Minneapolis public schools, which employ of the group's teachers, both testified in favor of the bill.

Teach for America currently had about 90 teachers working in the Twin Cities metro area both in public and charter schools. They work under temporary licenses while taking education classes through Hamline University in St. Paul.

Jan Alswager, a lobbyist for Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, testified against the bill. "We are not against Teach for America," she said. "We are concerned about making sure these individuals meet certain standards."

The union wants alternative teaching programs to partner with colleges and universities, alternative candidates to have a degree in the subject they will teach and the union wants those teachers be closely supervised for their first 90 days in the classroom.

On split votes, the Republican-led committee picked Garofalo's bill over one sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. Mariani argued his bill guaranteed higher standards for teachers while Garofalo said his bill was more flexible. Garofalo's bill now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Minnesota lost points on its application for Race to the Top education grants funds last year because it didn't have additional pathways to the front of the classroom. Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would like the state to re-apply, if Congress pays for another round of grants.

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